Sacked Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Photo: AFP
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in a file photo. Photo: AFP

A large protest was staged in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, on Tuesday over the controversial sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Wickremesinghe and his United National Party outside his official residence, where he has been holed up since President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed him on Friday.

Sirisena triggered a constitutional crisis by naming Mahinda Rajapakse – a former president who oversaw the brutal end of the country’s civil war – as head of government, after weeks of dissent among the ruling coalition.

Police said at least 25,000 people took part in the protest, although the UNP put the figure at four times that amount.

“We are against the sacking, the people did not vote for Sirisena to act in this manner,” Wickremesinghe told supporters from a makeshift stage. “We will resist what the president has done,” AFP reported.

Crowds chanted “down with the rogue PM”, referring to Rajapakse, and “respect the mandate, recall parliament.”

Effigies of Sirisena were torn up in a symbolic protest against the president’s move, which has been described by many local newspapers as a “constitutional coup.”

Large crowds, many wearing caps in green, the UNP party color, took part in the hurriedly arranged rally that forced the closure of several roads.

More than 2,600 police and 10 units of Special Task Force commandos were deployed for the protest, police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.

Parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya has warned that the crisis could lead to a “bloodbath” on the streets unless Sirisena ends a suspension of parliament to let MPs choose between Wickremesinghe and Rajapakse. The United States has also called for the parliament to resolve the matter.

Wickremesinghe has demanded that parliament meet so that he can prove he has the backing of a majority of MPs.

with reporting by Agence France-Presse